After the famine and the
institution of Home Rule, Ireland was a partially broken country. Ireland became in need of nationalism in its
land, along with something that would set the Irish apart from England. This
became known as the Gaelic cultural revival movement. It was most successful in
the three areas, the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic League and the
Anglo-Irish literary Revival.
The Irish language
dramatically declined throughout the 19th century. During the famine,
there were 4 million Irish speakers. This number fell to 680,000 by 1891 and
dropped further throughout the years. These stark figures illustrate the
shocking decline of the Irish language and proved that if it continued to
decline at this rate, the language would be extinct within a number of years.
As Irish struggled to survive, the embrace of the English language offered an
alternative existence to the ravages of famine. English was seen as a language
of prosperity whilst Irish was generally associated with poverty. This promoted
the learning of the English language and soon enough Irish mothers demanded
that English be taught instead of Irish in primary school. The use of English
as a first language provided the citizens with further opportunities with
regards to work and travel as it was a common universal language at this
period. English was also associated with power as it was only the most powerful figures in Ireland, like
landlords, judges and politicians who spoke English.
As a response to the deterioration
of the Irish language, Douglas Hyde and Eoin MacNeill joined and formed the
Gaelic League in 1893. The Gaelic League was designed for the
restoration of the Irish language which they realised was dying out completely
at that stage. The Gaelic League was a grassroots
movement that has played a central part in Ireland’s national building. The Gaelic League had many effects in
Ireland including reviving the Irish language, improving schools, making the
social life of Ireland better and having less discrimination among other
countries. It was designed in order to
separate Ireland from England. From the perspective of other nations, Ireland was
just part of the United Kingdom, like Scotland and Wales were, and was
considered under the control of England. Many Irish citizens were not content
with the partial freedom Ireland received from the Home Rule Act, including Hyde and MacNeill. It was this act that
gave Ireland a chance to hold its own parliament, however, it would keep
English institutions and would speak English as their national language.
The effects of this organisation
change the success of Ireland as a country. The Gaelic League was not only a
source of nationalism and unity for the country, the league also gave Ireland a
sense of uniqueness from its dominating and overbearing neighbor, England. The
League eventually helped the country gain its independence. The Gaelic League
did, however, experience great difficulties throughout its existence and became
a factor in the eventual civil war in Ireland.
hopes were demoralising English culture and to recreate their Irish language
and literature civilisation. Their efforts met with
almost immediate success with branches of Connradh springing up in practically
every parish in the country. ‘Feiseanna’ were organised on a county basis which
appealed to youths. Many books were published teaching simple Irish words and
phrases for those anxious to learn. This was a major impact on the increasing of the level of interest in
Irish as most publications of Irish were in an old form, very difficult to
understand and learn, and usually very expensive to purchase. Native speakers, known as
Timirí (travelling teachers) went around setting up Irish classes.
One of the
most important effects of The Gaelic League was the improved education and
renovation of the Irish national school system. Before the League, the youth in
the Irish educated society was geared toward English cultural and political
standards and held the Gaelic heritage in contempt. There was a lot of pressure
from the Gaelic League on the National Board of Education, which was largely
responsible for the introduction of the English program. The League was very
successful, primarily because it argued for the program on educational grounds.
It contended that the most effective and efficient way to educate
Irish-speaking children was through the medium of both Irish and English. With
the aim that they both are well-read in both languages by the time they left
primary school. The school curriculum was now being taught by both English and
Gaelic speaking languages. This change was firstly recognised at college level
and at universities in Dublin, which guaranteed successes of their students no
matter what language they’re taught in. Later the League made Irish compulsory for
entry to the new National University of Ireland.
heritage was spread across Ireland from the students at school and because of
the big number of Irish, Gaelic speaking students, there was hardly any
discrimination. The new schools allowed for the students to have a better
education and with that better education, allowed for a better job in the
future as well. Adults in Ireland found it very difficult to find work in the
Southern and Western counties of Ireland due to the very little industry found
in these rural parts of Ireland. Hence, most Irish people searched for
employment in Dublin. As a result of this immigration became extremely high
during this period.
While the League did not make Irish the
everyday language of Ireland, it generated enough enthusiasm to stop it
disappearing altogether. By 1908, the Gaelic League had almost 600 branches
nationwide. The Irish newspaper called An
Claidheamh Soluis became very popular with Irish citizens as it was in the
form of modern Irish which was a lot simpler to understand and read compared to
old Irish. In 1897 the League was successful in expanding the rights of Irish
speakers giving testimony in the law courts. In 1905 the League launched a
campaign to force the Post Office to accept mail that was addressed only in
Irish and fought to allow Irish business the right to have their store names
written in Irish.
1909 about 3000 of the 9000 primary schools were teaching Irish, compared with
fewer than a hundred a decade earlier. Finally, after independence, the leaders of the new state, all
influenced by the League, made Irish compulsory in schools and gave it the
status of the ‘first official language’ in the 1937 Constitution.
The Irish Literary Revival
was an early 20th century movement in Ireland aimed at reviving ancient Irish
folklore, legends and traditions into new works of literature. It was by this time that Gaelic language had died out
as a spoken tongue, except in the isolated rural areas of the West coast of
Ireland. In its place, English had become the official and literary language.
Through the discovery by philologists of how to read Old Irish and the
subsequent translations of ancient Gaelic manuscripts, the reading of Ireland’s
ancient literature was made possible.
in Gaelic literature encouraged some people to develop a distinctively Irish
literature in English
tales caught the imagination of the educated classes. Anglo-Irish poets
experimented with verse that was structured according to Gaelic patterns and
rhythms and that echoed the passion and rich imagery of ancient bardic verse.
This new-found interest in
Irish literature and folklore encouraged Irish writers to develop a distinctively
Irish literature in English. The Irish National Literary Society is founded in
Dublin by William Butler Yeats. The object of the Society is to promote the
appreciation of Irish literature and culture and to provide a forum for
intellectual and social activities in connection with these interests.
In 1899 W.B Yeats and Lady
Gregory founded The Irish Literary Theatre. Its purpose was to perform Irish
plays written by Irish authors. The Theatre gave Irish writers the
platform they desired to display their works. Irish writers of the period
strove to reclaim Ireland’s national identity in their writing by two different
means, both of which addressed the identity conflict resulting from the
suppression of the Irish language: some sought to create a new national literature
written in Irish, while others sought to create a distinctly Irish brand of
The Theatre was subsequently renamed the Abbey Theatre in 1904. The
founding of the Abbey in 1904 came at a moment when the energies of the
European movement for free theatre combined with those of a gifted generation
of Irish dramatists. The new theatre also grew out of a fusion of Yeats and
Gregory’s Irish Literary Theatre with the Fay brothers’ Irish National Dramatic
The Abbey’s staging of Synge’s
satire The Playboy of the Western World, on Jan. 26,
1907, stirred up so much resentment in the audience over its portrayal of the
Irish peasantry that there was a riot. When the Abbey players toured the United
States for the first time in 1911, similar protests and disorders were provoked
when the play opened in New York City and Philadelphia.
The years 1907 to 1909 were difficult
times for the Abbey as it suffered many changes which affected the management
of the theatre. The Fay brothers, whose commitment to nationalistic and folk
drama conflicted with Yeats’s art-theatre outlook, departed for the United
States. Horniman withdrew her financial support, which was the hardest hit for
the theatre, and the management of the theatre changed hands several times with
little success. The onset of World War I and the Irish Rebellion of 1916 almost
caused the closing of the theatre. However, its luck changed in 1924, when it
became the first state-subsidised theatre in the English-speaking world. The
emergence of the playwright Sean O’Casey also stimulated new life in the theatre, and
from 1923 to 1926 the Abbey staged three of his plays: The Shadow of a
Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and the
Stars, the last a provocative dramatisation of the Easter Rising of 19161. While
the Abbey today retains its traditional focus on Irish plays, it also stages a
wide range of classic and new works from around the world.
From the point of view of a
cultural organisation it is certain that the Gaelic League lost momentum in the
new State. Membership of the organisation was not the mark of prestige it once
was and many of those who remained within the organisation were viewed the
‘refuge of dissidents’ by some politicians. Connections between
League members did continue, albeit on a more ceremonial level with political
representatives sharing the same platforms as Gaelic League, and indeed G.A.A.
members at public political commemorations and at sporting finals. But ultimately,
the dream of an Irish-speaking, Gaelic Ireland would never become a reality.